Underdogs Reign Supreme: Greatest NHL First Round Upsets in Recent History

Tim YuSenior Analyst IApril 10, 2008

The 2008 edition of the NHL Playoffs are back but what is the post season without drama?

Or without Stephane Yelle or Keith Carney?

Unsung heroes coming to life on hockey's biggest stage. It doesn't get any bigger than that for the sixteen teams vying for a shot at Lord Stanley's Cup. 

Over the years, we've seen some crazy yet inspirational hockey from the most unlikely teams. Who could forget the 2005 Edmonton Oilers or the 2003 Mighty Ducks of Anaheim when they made their improbable runs (only to fall short by one game, but nonetheless still phenomenal achievements)?

They both started their playoff campaign against extraordinary odds in the opening rounds but still managed to shock even the brightest of hockey experts.

But they aren't the only ones that have won the hearts of hockey fans across the globe. If you can still remember back to the days when Curtis Joseph was still an elite goalie, he provided great memories for both the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs back in the hay-days.

The same could be said for Adam Deadmarsh or even Saku Koivu when he came back from his battle with cancer to lead the Habs over the Bruins in an unforgettable six-game series. 

Here's a look at the greatest NHL first-round shockers in recent memory:

10) Toronto Maple Leafs (7) over Ottawa Senators (2)20014-0

Back in happier days, the Toronto Maple Leafs still had the ability to beat formidable opponents when it mattered most. In this case, Toronto handed their hated rivals with an embarrassing playoff sweep despite finishing with 19 less regular season points than Ottawa in the Battle of Ontario.

Thanks in part to some sensational goaltending from former Edmonton Oiler Curtis Joseph; Cujo stymied the Sens for 176 minutes as Ottawa failed to put anything past him until the dying minutes of Game 3. With a red-hot goaltender on the top of his game, the Leafs provided enough offence under the guidance of Mats Sundin to send Patrick Lalime and the Ottawa Senators out with a third consecutive first-round defeat.

Yeah, for once, it was good to be a Leafs fan.

9) Edmonton Oilers (8) over Detroit Red Wings (1)20064-2 

At the 2006 NHL Trade Deadline, some were questioning whether Kevin Lowe was making the right decision to give up so many quality draft picks to obtain the players that he wanted.

By the end of this series against the Detroit Red Wings, the questioning turned into cheers.

Dwayne Roloson stood on his head when it mattered most and Sergei Samsonov provided the Edmonton Oilers with the typical speed that we've grown accustomed to since the ole' run-and-gun days when the Oilers were sporting their orange and blue.

Chris Pronger was the driving heartbeat of a resilient hockey team as he logged an insane amount of ice-time and the Oilers started what would prove to be an improbable run towards the Stanley Cup finals—only to come up one game short against the Carolina Hurricanes in game seven.

Game six of the Detroit-Edmonton series would prove to be Steve Yzerman's final game as a Detroit Red Wing after he skated off the ice in front of the 20,000 ecstatic Oil fans at Rexall Place with his final bid for another Stanley Cup ring denied.

8) San Jose Sharks (8) over Detroit Red Wings (1)19944-3

The Detroit Red Wings were the unanimous pick from hockey experts for the Wings to come away with the Stanley Cup 

The San Jose Sharks, meanwhile, had a record of under .500.

It seems like a bit of a mismatch on paper, but luckily for the Sharks the game was played on ice instead.

Stunning the high-powered Red Wing attack, a young Arturs Irbe emerged as one of the game's brightest goaltenders as he backstopped San Jose to an improbable seven-game series win as hockey fans in the Bay Area could finally get excited about their third year expansion team.  

7) Minnesota Wild (6) over Colorado Avalanche (3)20034-3

The Avalanche had the big payroll and star players going for them but the Wild still ended up prevailing against their divisional rivals in their very first playoff series. Riding on a career year from Milan Hejduk and Joe Sakic to lead the scoring attack for Colorado, the Avalanche stumbled out of the gates and failed to make quick work of their so-called ‘inferior’ opponents.

Richard Park and Andrew Brunette provided the unlikely heroics in game six and seven, respectively, as they would prove to be Patrick Roy’s final games as a goaltender as an NHL goaltender. It would also be the Minnesota's first playoff series win since the days of the Minnesota North Stars.

6) Montreal Canadiens (8) over Boston Bruins (1)20024-2

Saku Koivu missed almost the entire season but stormed back just in time to lift his Montreal Canadiens past the first-seeded Boston Bruins in the 2002 season. Jose Theodore's goaltending made all the difference in the series as the Habs cruised past their Original Six rivals with relative ease.

5) Los Angeles Kings (7) over Detroit Red Wings (2)20014-2 

The Kings were well on their way out of the NHL Playoffs before a spark came at the absolute right time. Coming back from a 3-0 deficit in game four and already down 2-1 in the series, Los Angeles defied the odds with a rally for the ages. Locking up the game at 3-3, the Kings sent it into overtime where Eric Belanger took a pass from Adam Deadmarsh and slotted in a miraculous game-winning goal to hand Los Angeles the momentum for the rest of the series.

Deadmarsh quickly made Kings' fans forget about former Norris Trophy winner Rob Blake after he buried the series-clincher in overtime of Game 6.

4) Montreal Canadiens (7) over Boston Bruins (2)20044-3

If history is any indicator, this year’s edition of the Canadiens/Bruins rivalry doesn’t bode well for Boston’s storied franchise. After falling to Montreal behind a resurgent Saku Koivu, the Bruins fell once again after holding a 3-1 advantage over the Habs.

Jose Theodore turned aside 32 shots on his way to collecting a well-deserved shutout and Richard Zednik buried the game-winning goal in game seven to join an elite group of teams that have won after being burdened with a 3-1 deficit.

Ever since the Canadiens scored 12 goals in their final three games, it seems as if Andrew Raycroft’s career has never really recovered from this series. Once heralded with the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie, Raycroft has failed to reproduce the form that once had hockey experts raving about his goaltending ability.

3) Edmonton Oilers (7) over Colorado Avalanche (2)—19984-3

Curtis Joseph provided the Edmonton Oilers with yet another stellar goaltending performance after he stood tall against Colorado’s potent attack. Fending off the threats of Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg in their prime, the Oilers did themselves one better after their heroic performance the year before against the Dallas Stars.

Peter Forsberg was the league’s second highest scorer in the regular season but even that wasn’t enough to convince head coach Marc Crawford to come back behind the bench for another season as Colorado’s head coach. After leading the series 3-1, Curtis Joseph’s shutout in game seven proved to the hockey world that it would take a lot more than a hefty payroll with star players to knock off a determined underdog like the 1997/1998 Edmonton Oilers.

2) Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (7) over Detroit Red Wings (2)20034-0

Making his NHL Playoff debut in between the pipes for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Jean Sebastien Giguere shocked the Detroit Red Wings with some sensational goaltending while on their way to sweeping their opponents in four games. Giguere's 1.24 GAA in the postseason made all the difference as his goaltending proved to be one of the main reasons why the Mighty Ducks made it all the way to the Stanley Cup finals before being defeated by the New Jersey Devils.

Despite being on the losing side, Giguere was still rewarded with the Conn Smythe Trophy that year; although, he'll be the first to tell you that it wasn't much of a consolation after missing out on his first chance to win a Stanley Cup.

1) Edmonton Oilers (7) over Dallas Stars (2)19974-3

Todd Marchant did what many hockey players can only dream of doing.

It's game seven. You’re playing against one of the best teams in the NHL in the Dallas Stars and the entire series hangs in the balance.

So what do you do?

With Curtis Joseph standing on his head after robbing Joe Nieuwendyk from point blank range, the seventh seeded Edmonton Oilers proved the doubters wrong when Marchant took matters into his own hands.

Bursting with speed down the right flank on a breakaway, Marchant fired a flawless wrist shot past Stars netminder Andy Moog to come away with the series-clinching goal in Game 7 of a gruelling seven-game series against their playoff arch-nemesis.

After a four-year absence from the playoffs, Oil Country had their prayers answered in what many consider to be one of the greatest upsets in NHL playoff history in recent memory.


    Bergevin Strengthens Legacy with Kotkaniemi Pick

    Montreal Canadiens logo
    Montreal Canadiens

    Bergevin Strengthens Legacy with Kotkaniemi Pick

    Ryan Szporer
    via The Hockey Writers

    Ottawa Senators Re-Sign Defenseman Chris Wideman

    Ottawa Senators logo
    Ottawa Senators

    Ottawa Senators Re-Sign Defenseman Chris Wideman

    Kened Sadiku
    via Last Word on Hockey

    John Tavares To Bruins? Don Sweeney Not Ruling Out Pursuit Of Star Center

    Boston Bruins logo
    Boston Bruins

    John Tavares To Bruins? Don Sweeney Not Ruling Out Pursuit Of Star Center

    Dakota Randall
    via NESN.com

    Sharks Not Afraid of Murky Waters With Merkley

    San Jose Sharks logo
    San Jose Sharks

    Sharks Not Afraid of Murky Waters With Merkley

    Mac Bass
    via The Hockey Writers